Cosmic dust abounds in the galaxy

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We know the universe is full of dust. We see planets, proto-planets, rings and shells of gas and grains surround dying stars with beautiful arrays like the Crab Nebula above. It’s a thin fare. But astronomers believe there is plenty of it between stars in the Milky Way. The details of how it got from small collections of molecules to something big enough to be barely visible to the naked eye is a bit of a mystery: [Read more...]

Cosmos series reborn

An old friend will reappear in modern guise in a few weeks. The choice of venue is a little bit controversial in some circles. But Heidi Hammel writing at the Planetary Society makes a fair case for it:

Remember Carl Sagan’s TV show, Cosmos? There is a new version, Cosmos – A Spacetime Odyssey (see its trailer) hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Fox. Wait, why Fox, you ask, aren’t they anti-science? The answer is: indeed Fox – because of the people who watch Fox. These are precisely the people we need to reach if we want to rekindle a fire for space science exploration in the heart of America. The premier episode airs on 9 March 2014. Leverage this: offer to be the host at a Cosmos kick-off event at your local library or middle school; invite your non-astronomy buddies over to watch an episode of Cosmos. Let me know some of your other ideas.

The shape of space

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Pretty cool, cosmologists are developing the Standard Model for the universe. A while back I saw something on TV that speculated on how galaxies and clusters move. It almost reminded me of material moving through a cell along ionic channels on the submicroscopic scale. I’m not saying the universe is alive or anything, but it is probably way more complicated and ordered than we currently know.

Grats: It’s a baby galaxy!

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Galaxies aren’t just collections of stars. They also have to have a halo of Dark Matter cementing them together to qualify for that distinction. Otherwise any cluster would make the grade. There is an interesting new idea on how to explain Dark Matter making the rounds this week. Meanwhile, astronomers using the Keck Observatory have found what they believe is by far the tiniest galaxy ever seen, made up of only 1000 stars or so, that orbits the Milky Way just past the edge. [Read more...]

House Science Committee to hold hearings on impact danger

Forgive my absence gentle readers, I was on a well deserved R & R after the preceding, and life changing, two months (I had some evergreen content timed to go, I thought. But, well, for whatever reason Microsoft won again …). After which I was deemed healthy enough to return to work full time. So, last week the House was supposed to hold an important hearing on the danger posed by Near Earth Objects, a hearing so important it was at first postponed indefinitely and, I’m now told by trustworthy sources, rescheduled for next week on March 19. It’s interesting to hear what planetary scientists think of the people who are actually on that committee and by extension the party that controls it: [Read more...]

Radio wavelengths bring dim nebula into exquisite high resolution

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Not long ago this object didn’t even have a name. It was just a dim hazy splotch in most telescopes, if they could see it at all. After being imaged by a high res wide radio telescope array in New Mexico, the one made famous in the movie Contact, it was christened the manatee nebula for its resemblance to the gentle and endangered marine mammals. More here. [Read more...]

Ultra massive black hole not easy to explain

Hubble catches a large and small spiral galaxy similar to the respective dimensions of NGC 1277 and our Milky Way.

Sometimes I dream that, one day, we’ll be studying what we think is a natural object or event in the universe of incomprehensible scope, only to eventually learn it’s a manufactured item. That didn’t happen today! But it is a nice segue to this interesting cosmic tidbit: astronomers have clocked stars in the nucleus of a small, relatively nearby galaxy and come up with an astonishing discovery: it harbors the largest black-hole in the known universe. And I mean freakishly large! [Read more...]

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away …

Some people call a 13.7 billion year old universe ancient, but others think it’s held up nicely and doesn’t look an eon over five billion. Or in Bobby Jindal’s lesser epochs, a day over 5,000 years. But however one mismeasures time, lo those many billennia ago, there was at least one galaxy burning bright, and where there’s one modest-sized super massive black-hole embedded in dark matter cloud with a frothy retinue of stars and dust and maybe even planets, there’s probably a billion more: [Read more...]